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David's Macro Blog

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Tag: business cycles

The belief in a recovery from the global economic collapse in 2008 has gained strength as the unemployment rate has leveled off, the stock market has recovered about 70% and real estate prices have stopped falling.

However, do we really have an organically growing economy or something else?

A great description of our recent economic experience comes from Bloomberg’s Caroline Baum:

“What we had was a government-prescribed course of amphetamines (to keep it up), antibiotics (to prevent infection) and antidepressants (to make it feel better). It endured regular steroid injections from both monetary and fiscal authorities. And it still has no real muscle.”

Here’s a list of things we should expect in a true recovery:

  • Increasing bank lending
  • Growing credit use by consumers
  • Increasing labor participation rate
  • Increasing hours worked
  • Increasing interest rates
  • Decreasing unemployment (yes it is a lagging indicator)

Some far there is “no real muscle” because we don’t see any true signs of rebound in the economic and financial systems. Sure, the stimulus can temporarily bump up retail sales and the stock market, but long term it can’t.

Judge for yourself. Which do we have, an economy on life support or a real recovery?

In my opinion, we’ve been headed for a double dip recession ever since massive amount of stimulus was injected into the economy. Once that stimulus is removed, the double dip will commence. In reality we never left the first dip — we just momentarily suspended the decline.

Can good economic times last forever? Is it impossible to have “stable” economic growth?

This is the argument presented in Barry Ritholtz’s post: Galbraith: Financial Stability Creates Instability

Here are the essential points of the article.

  • When the economy is good for a long time, people then think the good times will continue indefinitely so they take extra risk (e.g. debt).
  • This additional risk eventually sows the seeds of the end of the economic expansionary period.

For example, during the 2000 real estate bubble, housing prices were thought to only go up, therefore the logical conclusion was for everyone to buy as much real estate as possible (by using financial leverage or debt) since this was an easy road to wealth.

Of course this speculation led to massive over construction of residential and commercial real estate. The resulting overcapacity caused falling prices which, as we now know, completely destroyed our financial system and the economy.

Interestingly, classically accepted econimics says that the economy can remain in a steady state – yet it never does, does it?  Ritholtz’s article explains what really happens.

Key Quotes

McCulley was referring to economist Hyman Minsky’s concept that long periods of stability cause people to take on ever more debt and ever more risk, leading to a gigantic meltdown.

Systemically-speaking, the Ponzi phase is one of risky behavior crowding out prudent behavior in a world free of regulatory controls. If risky behavior is temporarily rewarded with profit and this temporary period is long enough, then risky behavior wins and drives out good behavior.

Think we’ll remember this during the next bubble?

Related Posts

Classical economics teaches that an economy, if properly managed, will remain in a state of equilibrium. This is because economists assume a perfect market place with rational actors who maximize their returns through their uniform access to all information.

As we know, the REAL world is much different from economic equations.

Instead, the real world economy moves through market cycles. These market cycles fluctuate between boom and bust as the market participants move through cycles of fear and greed and all sentiments in between.

The past 10 years have seen some amazing bubbles which were not sustainable because the asset prices got out of line with the underlying fundamentals supporting the market.

Let’s review the bubbles in our recent memory.

2000 Nasdaq index over 5000 – 9 years later the index is still off 60% from its peak.

2007 Real Estate Bubble – In just 2 years some markets are off 60% and the average is off 30%.

2008 Oil Price – The price per barrel peaked around $150 but then fell to under $40 in less than 2 years.

2009 US Treasuries??? If the future holds inflation then this may be just as large as the 2007 real estate bubble. However, if we continue with deflation, then maybe current yields are the new normal.

So, what bubble are we in now?

Please comment below and let me know what you think.

You might also like these posts on similar topics:

Historically we often think of a recession as a sharp drop in economic output followed by a sharp rise. This is called the “V-shaped” recovery. The current “Great Recession” had a sharp downturn but so far no recovery after 18 months, and most talk is of an “L-shaped” or “U-shaped” rebound.

Why is this?

There’s an excellent post on Calculated Risk blog (one of my favorites) about economic growth engines that typically pull us out of recession with a sharp upward swing in activity.

The top two economic growth engines are residential investment and personal consumption expenditures.

Since we’ve had the largest residential real estate bubble in history and massive over-consumption, both due to very loose credit, these two growth engines are NOT poised to restart economic growth anytime soon.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Any recovery will be held in check by the massively overbuilt inventory of residential real estate and the inability of consumers to tap savings and credit to purchase consumer goods at the level needed to “stimulate the economy”.

Thus, while it looks like we avoided the Great Depression II, we’ll probalby remain in the Great Recession I for some time.

What do you think? Whether you agree or disagree, please add your comment below and show me you’re alive!

I read a very good NY Times article “We Try Harder (but What’s the Point?)” about the difference between business and finance.

The current economic crisis is a financial problem brought on by poorly conceived financial instruments. The underlying businesses of the economy are reasonably sound businesses except in categories such as banking (banks), finance (B/D, investment banks), and home building.

A more stable financial system will lead to a more stable business cycle. The current system needs massive overhaul to prevent financial instruments from ruining businesses and the lives of most people.

My favorite quotes:

The Journal warned, “If a buyout or acquisition deal doesn’t materialize for Avis, stock and bond investors will have to focus on the fundamentals of its car-rental business.”

Modern capitalism has two parts: there’s business, and there’s finance. Business is renting you a car at the airport. Finance is something else.